One sometimes finds what one is not looking for. When I woke up just after dawn on Sept. 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I guess that was exactly what I did.
It is not difficult to make microbes resistant to penicillin in the laboratory by exposing them to concentrations not sufficient to kill them, and the same thing has occasionally happened in the body. The time may come when penicillin can be bought by anyone in the shops. Then there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.
Suggested remedy for the common cold: A good gulp of whiskey at bedtime-it’s not very scientific, but it helps.
(The discovery of penicillin) was a triumph of accident, a fortunate occurrence which happened while I was working on a purely academic bacteriological problem.
It is the lone worker who makes the first advance in a subject: the details may be worked out by a team, but the prime idea is due to the enterprise, thought, and perception of an individual.
For the birth of something new, there has to be a happening. Newton saw an apple fall; James Watt watched a kettle boil; Roentgen fogged some photographic plates. And these people knew enough to translate ordinary happenings into something new…
The unprepared mind cannot see the outstretched hand of opportunity.
Penicillin cures, but wine makes people happy.
One sometimes finds what one is not looking for.
Nature makes penicillin; I just found it.
Penicillin sat on a shelf for ten years while I was called a quack.
If penicillin can cure those that are ill, Spanish sherry can bring the dead back to life.
In my first publication I might have claimed that I had come to the conclusion, as a result of serious study of the literature and deep thought, that valuable antibacterial substances were made by moulds and that I set out to investigate the problem. That would have been untrue and I preferred to tell the truth that penicillin started as a chance observation. My only merit is that I did not neglect the observation and that I pursued the subject as a bacteriologist. My publication in 1929 was the starting-point of the work of others who developed penicillin especially in the chemical field.
I play with microbes. There are, of course, many rules to this play…but when you have acquired knowledge and experience it is very pleasant to break the rules and to be able to find something nobody has thought of.
I have been trying to point out that in our lives chance may have an astonishing influence and, if I may offer advice to the young laboratory worker, it would be this-never neglect an extraordinary appearance or happening. It may be-usually is, in fact-a false alarm that leads to nothing, but may on the other hand be the clue provided by fate to lead you to some important advance.
It has been demonstrated that a species of penicillium produces in culture a very powerful antibacterial substance which affects different bacteria in different degrees. Generally speaking it may be said that the least sensitive bacteria are the Gram-negative bacilli, and the most susceptible are the pyogenic cocci … In addition to its possible use in the treatment of bacterial infections penicillin is certainly useful… for its power of inhibiting unwanted microbes in bacterial cultures so that penicillin insensitive bacteria can readily be isolated.
It was astonishing that for some considerable distance around the mould growth the staphococcal colonies were undergoing lysis. What had formerly been a well-grown colony was now a faint shadow of its former self…I was sufficiently interested to pursue the subject.